Altered Carbon Teaches Us This About Capitalism
The entire first season is a critique on it.
The Netflix special ‘Altered Carbon‘ challenged the way we think about our world. It showed a completely new world, where humans had ‘outlived’ death. Because of immortality, humanity was able to reach new heights of success. However, it came at a massive cost. And it’s one that’s present in our world too, and we call it Capitalism. So, let’s take a look at what the show teaches us about Capitalism and how it would deal with immortality.
The set up of the Altered Carbon Universe
The first season of the show is very highly rated by Vox. But most importantly, it set up the universe really well for the viewers. Therefore, we’ll be dealing mostly with it in this article.
In short, humans have found a way to transfer the complete human consciousness into an object called a Cortical stack. You can easily transfer that stack into any other human body. Thus, allowing you to live forever from one body to another.
But, it isn’t as easy for everyone as nothing comes without a cost. This is because capitalism looms large in the Altered Carbon universe. Therefore, let’s see how capitalism deals with immortality in such a future.
1. The human body is now a product
As we all saw in the show, the human body has become a product. In fact, it’s not even treated like a t-shirt instead and called a sleeve that can be changed anytime. Moreover, the rich have hundreds of them in chambers, like clothes in a closet.
And if that wasn’t enough, there are ‘modifications’ for these sleeves too, just like Takeshi Kovacs and Miriam Bancroft had in season 1 and 2. It’s like playing Call of Duty with modifications, except its real-life instead of a game. Adding to that, young ‘sleeves’ cost more as you can live longer in them. Leave it to capitalism to make a commodity out of something as essential as a human body and label it as a piece of cloth.
2. Immortality sells at a steep price
Just like the human body, the stacks aren’t free in Altered Carbon either. Every person has a stack, but only the rich can afford ‘backing up’ their consciousness in a cloud. This allowed them to truly live forever, even if their stacks get destroyed.
Whereas, if the stack of an ordinary person dies who cannot afford backups, they die a ‘Real Death’. As you can see, capitalism has managed to give a different name for death to the poor and the rich in Altered Carbon.
3. The elites are even richer and more separated from the poor
With stacks being virtually backed up, and sleeves in their closets like clothes, the elites are insanely richer in Altered Carbon. That has created an even bigger divide between them and the middle and lower-income class. This is a lot like how capitalism fuels the divide between the two in the real world.
They’ve become so rich that they literally live in the clouds. That was evident when we saw the Aerium, which was the house of the Bancroft family. With capitalists living for centuries, they’re able to consolidate their wealth even more effectively, thanks to capitalism. Death has no meaning for them anymore.
4. How elite families became weird
Even though elite families are far richer, they’ve stagnated over the years. And you can see that in the Bancroft family. This was obvious when you saw that Laurens’ son, Isaac, was still a boy even though he was more than 60 years old!
With his father continuously above him for centuries, he never got the chance to grow up into a mature adult, independently. Therefore, living forever does come at a cost for the rich. The greed for wealth, thanks to capitalism, has crippled their families at a steep cost.
5. The pursuit of pleasure has no limits
We all know how capitalism puts a cost at pleasure in our real world. However, the meaning of pleasure has completely changed in Altered Carbon. Hedonism has made the rich capable of committing cruel acts, like rape, torture, and murder at their own leisure. This was evident in the ‘Head in the Clouds’, which was a sadistic sexual torture facility, made by Reileen (Dichen Lachman). Capitalism does give the elites a massive sense of entitlement, but this was just insane and horrifying.
This is our take on what Altered Carbon teaches us about how capitalism would deal with immortality. The performances given by Joel Kinnaman and Dichen Lachman were amazing. However, the show gives us the chance to think much more about our current lifestyle and human nature, without even mentioning the word ‘capitalism’. But, it’s worth thinking about how socialism would have shaped this universe.